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Love Island is back – but is ITV doing enough to protect contestants’ mental health?

Comprehensive as the channel’s new ‘psychological support package’ sounds, there are flaws in the plan which aims to help contestants deal with hostility directed at them from some viewers

Ian Hamilton
Monday 21 June 2021 14:24 BST
Trailer for Love Island 2021

It was never in any doubt that Love Island would return despite the tragic suicides of two former contestants, Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon. After all, this is a show that has attracted record numbers of viewers, giving ITV much-needed advertising revenue.

Although too late for previous contestants, ITV has announced its commitment to providing “comprehensive” psychological support. This new package will be an enhancement of what has been offered previously. The aim is to help contestants deal with the inevitable hostility that some viewers will direct towards them via social media. In an attempt to mitigate any more fatal tragedies, the usual eight therapy sessions will be expanded to 14 months of “proactive support”, although the details of what this support will include are missing – it might be an email, a phone call or perhaps intensive debriefing. However this support is organised, it will need to be tailored to the individual contestant, because their needs will vary.

ITV also promises to be more proactive in screening potential contestants and providing a warts-and-all briefing that will make clear the downside of appearing on Love Island. This will be accompanied by assessments carried out by mental health professionals and even the contestants’ GP will be contacted for an opinion. Comprehensive as this sounds, there are two potential factors that could impair this seemingly thorough plan.

First, unlike a physical assessment, psychological assessments rely on self-disclosure and a willingness to be honest about your mental health. This presumes contestants have a healthy insight into their mental health in the first place. A facet that usually comes with age and experience, while these contestants are young and with limited life experience.

Potential candidates will be highly motivated to be on the show, so what incentive do they have to effectively self-sabotage this chance with a disclosure that could jeopardise their selection?

Once they have secured a place, despite outward appearances, confidence is a fragile state at the best of times, let alone under the glare of television and subject to the whims of a sizeable audience. Confidence is quickly replaced with self-doubt and no shortage of opinion, fuelling negative thoughts and feelings.

Secondly, will producers be able to resist those potentially vulnerable contestants that they know from previous experience engage viewers and therefore improve ratings? Beyond the well-toned physiques that are a prerequisite, the production team knows a mix of personalities and characters make the show more interesting.

It’s also worth reflecting on how reliable and accurate suicide risk assessments are. This is an area that mental health professionals know is fiendishly difficult as far as prediction is concerned. It’s not helped by those who are adept at nodding their way through assessments, giving the answers they think the professional wants to hear. There are, of course, some indicators of risk, such as a history of attempting suicide, but this is by no means universal. In truth, the most reliable intelligence is only available in hindsight, which comes too late to be useful.

It takes a special type of person in the first place to be attracted to appearing on Love Island. What unites them all, though, is a desire to change: their love life, media profile and bank balance. Whatever the motivation and ambition, they can’t all win. How they deal with failure or relentless trolling and criticism is difficult for anyone to predict. We can only hope that the potential for revenue doesn’t prove to be more seductive than the contestant’s mental health.

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